In 2015, Alexander Harris walked 232 miles across southern Oregon to protest a proposed Jordan Cove natural gas export facility. Harris and his fellow organizers dubbed the project Hike the Pipe and set their route to follow the proposed path of the Pacific Connector gas pipeline, which would connect the Jordan Cove export terminal near Coos Bay, Oregon, to existing pipeline networks.
Harris says that in addition to drawing media attention, he hoped the hike would connect disparate opposition groups (such as urban environmentalists and rural landowners) and help document the pipeline’s impacts to local communities and ecosystems.
Harris grew in southern Oregon and says that if completed the pipeline would pass through areas where he grew up hiking. He studied Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Oregon, with an emphasis on Social and Political Philosophy.
We spoke in January of this year, and he reflected on the project’s impact and the historic divide on environmental politics between urban and rural populations.
We would talk about politics with the people we met, and they would start talking about how the corporations had gotten out of control, how communities were no longer at the center of government, how they had been alienated from the process, how the democracy that we cherish is kind of crumbling. It was funny, because most of us hikers were Bernie supporters, but most of [the landowners] were Trump supporters. We didn’t agree on most of the fundamental issues.
I would say we encountered vast differences along the way, only to find that there were more similarities between the urban and rural folk than is currently accepted in the public narrative. There are a lot of similarities that we can use to build a coalition that are currently being ignored. That’s the goal of the Hike the Pipe and the [NoLNG] coalition, to bridge the gaps between the urban environmentalists and the rural landowners and community members that are directly impacted…
[The experience] definitely changed my opinions. Because you’re able to become familiar with the fact that people in rural areas depend on their land in a way that urban folk don’t understand. They live off that land, they depend on it economically, and they have a deep relationship with that land…
And hopefully [the interactions] helped them understand that environmentalists aren’t just all about regulation and top-down policies. Most the time we’re into organizing to bolster community efforts to protect their communities. It just so happens that in the last 40 years the federal government has played major environmental roles. But the environmental movement now is definitely not top-down, it’s bottom-up, it’s grass roots.
Harris is currently working for the Sierra Club, opposing a proposed oil terminal in Vancouver, Washington.
Header photo provided by Alexander Harris.